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I didn’t post yesterday. I’ve been researching a longer piece on MERS, but it seemed inappropriate to send it out with France in flames.
The worst of the violence seems to have subsided, but the destruction has been considerable: As of yesterday 5,000 vehicles have been torched and nearly 1000 buildings damaged, many of them by arson, including the Bibliothèque de l’Alcazar in Marseille. There have been at least 20 attacks on police barracks, and even one on the home of L’Hay-les-Roses mayor Vincent Jeanbrun. Rioters crashed a car onto his terrace and attacked his fleeing family with fireworks, putting his wife in hospital. There have been untold thousands of arrests and at least 700 police injuries. All of this makes the intensity of the violence clearly greater than in 2005.
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The right-thinking European press, in its deep originality, has blamed the unrest on racism and a “rhetoric of exclusion,” which we are asked to believe has “become completely normal in France”:
In everyday life, France is ostensibly a functioning multicultural society, but in the talk shows and on the opinion pages of right-wing papers and websites, open racial warfare prevails. Here, hatred of ethnic minorities is mixed with Islamophobia and class conflict: Inhabitants of the banlieues are, in in this view, the dirty opposite of good France. The entire right wing of French politics sees migration as the country’s biggest problem, and hardly anybody can be found to contradict this view.
Perhaps the opinion columnists at Süddeutsche Zeitung need remedial lessons in how to use the internet, if they cannot find any voices in France denouncing French racism. Within seconds, I found this piece by literal Atlanticist agent Rokhaya Diallo, which works hard to reframe the rioting in American terms, as an antiracist uprising in the mould of the Floyd protests from 2020. “Nahel’s death,” Diallo writes, “is another chapter” in the “long and traumatic story” of French colonialism, racism and police violence towards minorities:
Whatever our age, many of us French who are descended from postcolonial immigration carry within us this fear combined with rage, the result of decades of accumulated injustice. This year, we commemorate the 40th anniversary of a seminal event. In 1983, Toumi Djaïdja, a 19-year-old from a Lyon banlieue, became the victim of police violence that left him in a coma for two weeks. This was the genesis of the March for Equality and Against Racism, the first antiracist demonstration on a national scale, in which 100,000 people took part.
For 40 years this movement has not stopped calling out the violence we see targeted at working-class neighbourhoods and more broadly black people and people of north African origin. The crimes of the police are at the root of many of the uprisings in France’s most impoverished urban areas, and it is these crimes that must be condemned first. After years of marches, petitions, open letters and public requests, a disaffected youth finds no other way to be heard than by rioting. It is difficult to avoid asking if, without so many uprisings in cities across France, Nahel’s death would have garnered the attention it has. And as Martin Luther King rightly said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
It goes without saying that such understandings were never extended to public demonstrations against the Corona hygiene regime. The state is firmly uninterested in hearing those kinds of voices, and Diallo is too.
In much the some vein, American-educated UN human rights spokesbot Ravina Shamdasani has used the protests to demand that France “seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement.” She’s also very concerned about the protesters and their unheard message, which has been carried by all major European press on front pages for days now:
We also emphasize the importance of peaceful assembly. We call on the authorities to ensure use of force by police to address violent elements in demonstrations always respects the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination, precaution and accountability.
What incited the rioting was not the nefarious colonial past of France, and it is not so easily discounted as a random act of police racism either. On 27 June, police in Nanterre stopped a car driven by a 17 year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent named Nahel Merzouk. When he tried to flee, one of the officers shot and killed him. This officer is now in custody and under investigation for manslaughter, but it’s far from clear he acted beyond his authority.
Beginning around 2012, and escalating in intensity through 2017, France has been subject to a series of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic militants. These included not only the Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan massacres of 2015, which together took the lives of 148 people, but also vehicle attacks like that carried out in 2016 by the Tunisian driver of a cargo truck in Nice on Bastille Day, who was able to crush 86 people to death before security services could kill him. In the wake of these attacks, the French government passed legislation permitting police to fire on motorists who flee traffic stops if they believe they pose a danger to others. France, in other words, responded to assaults on public life from self-identified Islamic militants by granting their police wider latitude in the use of force, extending to the shooting of noncompliant drivers like Merzouk.
Colonial sins are a very poor explanation for negative European experiences with the mass importation of foreigners from the developing world. Sweden had no colonial empire to speak of, but it has not been spared migrant violence since opening its borders in 2005. The consequence of migrant attacks is a steady brutalisation of society and the police, whose harsher methods are then freely reinterpreted as signs of racism and xenophobia in the next step of this tiresome game. It is the same with the rise of populist-right parties in Europe, which are direct reactions to mass migration and its attendant social disorders. Alternative für Deutschland, a small Euro-sceptic party founded in 2012, was polling around 3% before Merkel’s wir-schaffen-das moment of 2015. In the wake of the Cologne sexual assaults months later, it surged to 13%. These political developments are subjected to the same disingenuous interpretation as escalating police force, and cited as evidence of the ambient racism to which migrant violence is merely a response.
The leftist Green-adjacent France Insoumise party has published a lengthy tirade anticipating a new alliance between the ethnic minorities of the banlieues, victims of state violence; and the climate activists, who “resist the destruction of living things and the planet” and believe that this makes them police targets as well. John Keiger, writing in The Spectator, has also noticed this fascinating statement, and to it he adds the evidence of reports in Le Monde on the role of climate activists, anarchists and other extreme-left groups in organising the rioters and directing their violence towards specific police and state targets. His conclusion, based partly on the rhetoric of the activists themselves, is that France may be facing a civil war.
I don’t think that’s right. Protests about carbon emissions, racism and colonialist sins are not sincere demands for a better and more just world, but they are not the pretence of internal seditionists bent on the overthrow of the state either. They are rallying cries in support of the globalist programme, and an appeal to the issues via which our political elite aim to free themselves finally from the constraints of their own native populations.
It’s no surprise to find American soft power behind some of these episodes, but US influence is only one factor here. The postwar international order, founded around organisations like the United Nations and the European Union, bears the explicit mandate of counteracting nationalist politics, which are regarded as the root cause of the great world wars. Especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this globalist ethos has given rise to a whole world of densely interrelated political parties, NGOs and philanthropists, while also fostering an increasingly uniform and inward-looking elite political culture. These new elites hope to find in imported minorities a basis of popular support for globalism at home and a counterweight to the dreaded nativist right. Most major leftist and Green parties are mere instruments and expressions of this culture, as is any demonstration that is not immediately and brutally repressed.
This is about power and they don’t care. They’ll vaccinate billions and take years of heightened mortality in stride. They’ll burn whole cities to the ground if they have to.
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